Washing Homespun Yarn

I absolutely love to spin yarn from raw wool and alpaca. There’s something so magical starting from a freshly sheared fleece and taking it to the end product creating a skien of yarn. Whether it’s the soft loftiness of alpaca or the luscious lanolin coating of wool, the touch and feel of the fleece while spinning is so incredibly satisfying.

I was recently gifted several alpaca fleeces in light brown, dark chocolate and black. The light brown alpaca was such a beautiful color so I thought I’d spin that up first. Since alpaca doesn’t have any elasticity, it’s helpful to blend it with wool. In this case, I used a cream color wool fleece to blend with the alpaca. For this project, I decided to blend it in equal amounts- 50% alpaca, 50% wool. Here’s the result of my spinning before washing.

Washing the Yarn

There are many methods of washing your fleece/yarn. I tend to purchase fleece with low vegetable matter (VM) and fleece that’s not too dirty. I prefer to “spin in the grease” meaning that the fleece is not processed in any way before I spin. After I’ve spun the yarn, that’s when I wash it. So here’s how I do it.

First you’ll need soap to wash your wool. I use Power Scour which is a soap that is specifically created to wash fibers such as alpaca and wool. You can find Power Scour on Amazon, but it’s often available at fiber festivals as well. You can purchase the small bottle or the large container. In addition to the Power Scour, you may also want to have rubber gloves on hand as the water will be hot.

Having a two basin sink works well, but if you have only one- that’s fine too. You’ll want to fill your sink with hot tap water. I don’t take the temperature of my water, but it’s the hottest water I can get from my tap. Squirt a few drops of soap in the water as the water runs. You’ll want enough water to fully submerge your yarn.

Once you have your hot bath, submerge your yarn by pushing the yarn into the water. You are submerging and not swishing your yarn in the water. There is a risk of felting your yarn if you agitate it too much. Once in the water, let it sit for about 15 minutes.

As your yarn is soaking in the hot water, draw a cold water bath. After the time is up, remove the yarn from the hot water bath. Squeeze the water from your yarn. Be sure to just squeeze and not wring your yarn.

Immediately transfer your yarn into the cold water bath. To make the bath extra cold, I add ice. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

Now take a minute and look at the color of your soapy water. Mine was pretty gray. This means I’m going to repeat the process. As my yarn sat in the cold water bath, I drew another bath of hot soapy water, and when time was up, I transferred the yarn to the hot bath and again let it sit for 15 minutes. I drew another cold water bath and submerged the yarn in it again. You’ll want to continue the process until the water is no longer gray. For this yarn, I used three hot water baths- two with soap and and the last one without soap.

So let’s just chat about wool for a minute and what we’re trying to accomplish with washing besides getting the yarn clean. If you look at raw wool fiber under a microscope you’ll see that the fiber contains barbs. When you put the fiber into the hot bath, those barbs open up. When you transfer the wool to the cold bath, those barbs close quickly intertwining themselves with the barbs from the yarn it touches. This process intertwines the two single strands of your plied yarn.

Now that all the skeins are washed, it’s time to thwack your yarn. Yep, THWACK. I love that word. What you’re going to do is hit the yarn against a hard surface. This process kind of settles the yarn in place. So hold on to one end of the yarn, whip it around and give it a good thwack. Rotate the yarn in your hand and repeat the process until all the yarn in the skein has had a chance to have contact with the hard surface.

Now just hang your yarn to dry. It was a beautiful, sunny day so this yarn dried quickly.

Once dried, take a step back and look at how your yarn hangs. If you see my yarn, it’s hanging straight. This means that when I spun the yarn I did not over twist it. If your yarn has a twists on itself at the bottom, you may have over spun your yarn a bit.

Now let’s take a look at the wool before and after washing. See the difference? All the twists in the pre-washed yarn have worked themselves out and the two plies of my yarn are now safely sealed.

I really like how this yarn turned out. It’s super soft! With the 50/50 blend it really takes on the characteristics of the wool- which is fine. With the next batch of alpaca I think I’m going to blend it as two thirds alpaca and one third wool and compare it with this yarn.

Happy spinning!

Items and Resources Used in this Project

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *